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Employee Benefits Discrimination Laws

Most of the time, when employment discrimination is discussed, it is on the basis of being unlawfully terminated or not hired due to a suspect characteristic. However, state and federal anti-discrimination laws also cover benefits on the job. Promotions, reassignments, and bonuses, among other workplace events, can be granted or denied based on certain characteristics an employee may have or not have, and it will fall under the relevant statutes. If you suspect you are a victim of employee benefits discrimination, you may have a case.

South Carolina Law Is Not Specific

South Carolina’s Human Affairs Law covers issues in employment discrimination, and its language is fairly sweeping. Sec 1-13-80 covers several aspects of potential discrimination, stating that it is unlawful to “limit, segregate, or classify” employees in a manner that may adversely affect their status or ability to do their jobs, or in any other way that may “adversely affect the individual’s status as an employee.” In theory, this language could easily apply to employee benefits like promotions. While a promotion is not guaranteed to any employee, receiving one certainly augments one’s status as an employee and may improve one’s ability to do the job, depending on the specific job description.

However, this language is somewhat nebulous, and anywhere the wording of a law is not clear, the general rule is to assign the most likely intent to the words. While the “most likely” intent is often debatable, it is conceivable that someone could argue that it is not “limiting” or “segregating” employees to only reward some with extra money, prestige, or responsibilities. To allege employee benefits discrimination under state law in this regard, it would likely have to be on a case by case basis, simply because there is no other way to definitively interpret the wording of the statute.

Federal Law Is Clearer

Compared to the somewhat vague language in the South Carolina Human Affairs Law, guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces federal employment jurisprudence, is much clearer. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, among other laws, clearly state that “the law forbids discrimination in every aspect of employment.” In fact, it goes further, stipulating that whether discrimination is unacceptable, no matter if it is de jure (as written) or de facto (in practice). For example, if South Carolina passes a law that all bank tellers must take an essay test in order to be promoted to manager, it may not be discriminatory as the law was written. But if someone who cannot write or speak English wishes to become a manager, the law would exclude them, because they cannot take the test. Such a law would almost certainly be discriminatory in practice, even if it was written to be neutral.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that despite the EEOC guidance being markedly clearer than South Carolina’s state anti-discrimination laws, this does not mean that your employee benefits discrimination case will be a proverbial walk in the park. Title VII only applies to employers with 15 or more employees, all of whom worked at least 20 weeks in the current or the previous year, and even if it does apply to your employer, the resolution of your complaint will almost never be swift.

Contact An Employment Discrimination Attorney

Getting passed over for promotions, bonuses or other employee benefits can be disheartening, but if you are able to show that it is discriminatory, such a slight is even worse. Attorney A. Christopher Potts and his Charleston employment discrimination law firm can sit down with you and determine if you have a case and where to take it. Contact us today to set up an initial appointment.

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